Defending champions New Zealand are set to go on a record-shattering rampage through Pool C, but the relatively poor standard of the rest of the group has buoyed Argentina’s and Tonga’s hopes of breaking through for a quarter-final appearance.
The All Blacks got the World Cup monkey off their backs on home soil in 2011 – just, via a controversial one-point win over France in the final – but will be even more motivated to go back-to-back and shed the ‘chokers’ tag once and for all. The title-holders have only rarely been challenged since their triumph four years ago. There are virtually no weaknesses in the side, with almost every player regarded as the world’s best in their position, while in many cases the back-ups are rated No.2 in the world. Dan Carter has rocketed back to top form at precisely the right time, and is among a clutch of veterans – including captain Richie McCaw – aiming to sign off after a dream World Cup farewell. The big, physical England and South Arica sides look the only ones capable of knocking off the ABs, although they will be wary of Australia as always. The All Blacks suffered a shock loss to the Wallabies in Sydney in August, but bounced back with an emphatic thrashing of the green-and-golds in Auckland a week later.
IRB World ranking: 1
RWC all-time record: Won 37, Lost 6
Best RWC finish: Champions – 1987, 2011
RWC 2011 finish: First
Massive favourites to clinch the other quarter-final berth from Pool C, the Pumas have produced some confidence-boosting performances in 2015 to suggest going even further is not outside the realms of possibility. Argentina put in a gallant performance on the road against the All Blacks and stunned the Springboks by winning in South Africa for the first time (either side of a disappointing home loss to the Wallabies) to send a timely reminder that the South Americans can’t be taken lightly. Nicolas Sanchez orchestrates an improving backline in the No.10, while hooker and captain Agustin Creevy marshals the forward pack – the Pumas’ overwhelming strength traditionally. A showdown with France or Ireland looms in the knockout stages if they progress.
IRB World ranking: 8
RWC all-time record: Won 15, Lost 15
Best RWC finish: Third – 2007
RWC 2011 finish: Quarter-finalists
Tonga have contested six of the previous seven World Cups but have never made the quarters – could this be their year, with a virtual decider for second place in Pool C against Argentina? The island nation downed Canada, USA and Japan during the Pacific Nations Cup, but their final hit-out was an unimpressive 21-16 win over lowly-rated Romania. The vast majority of Tonga’s 31-man squad are based in France, England or Scotland, while veteran Hale T-Pole (unattached), lock Steve Mafi (Force) and winger Telusa Veainu (Rebels) boast top-line experience Down Under. The $6 on offer for Tonga to reach the quarters may be worth a nudge.
IRB World ranking: 11
RWC all-time record: Won 6, Lost 15
Best RWC finish: Third in pool – 1995, 1999, 2007, 2011
RWC 2011 finish: Third in pool (won 2, lost 2)
The Lelos line up for their fourth straight World Cup, having picked up a win at each of their last two appearances in 2007 (v Namibia) and 2011 (v Romania). Georgia went through the Six Nations B tournament undefeated in February/March, while they went down very narrowly in recent weeks to Japan (13-10) and Canada (16-15). Experience won’t be an issue for the emerging European outfit, with eight members of the squad – which is coached by Kiwi Milton Haig – having played over 50 Tests, including 31-year-old flanker and captain Mamuka Gorgodze, who is also one of 19 Georgians plying their trade in France or England. The Lelos will be gunning for an upset when they take on the likes of Tonga and Argentina.
IRB World ranking: 16
RWC all-time record: Won 2, Lost 10
Best RWC finish: Fourth in pool – 2007, 2011
RWC 2011 finish: Fourth in pool – (won 1, lost 3)
The lowest-ranked team in the World Cup, Namibia are still searching for their first World Cup victory after four tournament appearances – and it’s unlikely to come this time around. They hammered Kenya and Zimbabwe in the recent African Championship and thrashed Russia in two Tests, but were no match for fellow World Cup minnows Romania in June. Namibia do boast some handy players, however, most notably Saracens flanker Jacques Burger, who will captain the side, Cheetahs hooker Torsten van Jaarsfeld and former Lions fullback Chrysander Botha. Former Wales international Phil Davies will coach the unfancied Namibians. Keeping the All Blacks to under 100 points will be one of the African nation’s prime objectives.
IRB World ranking: 20
RWC all-time record: Won 0, Lost 15
Best RWC finish: Fourth in pool – 1999
RWC 2011 finish: Fifth in pool (won 0, lost 4)